After the California Gold Rush of 1848,
white settlers streamed west to strike it rich.
In addition to precious metals, they unearthed another treasure:
Two wealthy scientists in particular
Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope
competed to uncover these prehistoric monsters.
Marsh and Cope were first to describe iconic creatures
like Brontosaurus, Triceratops, and Stegosaurus.
But they also showcased the destructive whirlwind of profiteering and ambition
that fueled American science during the late 1800s.
Their rivalry, one of the most notorious scientific feuds in history,
became known as the Bone Wars.
Marsh was ill-tempered and had a knack for debunking falsehoods.
One woman said that getting to know him was like running against a pitchfork.
Cope, on the other hand, was charismatic and given to bold theorizing.
But he was also sarcastic and temperamental.
By his own admission, he wasnt
constructed for getting along comfortably with the general run of people.
When Marsh and Cope first met in 1864, they were friendly,
and each named a new species in the others honor.
But their relationship soon soured.
In 1868, Cope took Marsh to a quarry near his home in New Jersey
where one of the most complete dinosaur skeletons to date
had recently been discovered.
Sensing an opportunity, Marsh paid the mine operators
to send him the most interesting new finds.
Outraged, Cope accused Marsh of bribery.
That same year, Cope showed Marsh his reconstruction of a new marine reptile
Marsh immediately noticed that something was wrong:
Cope had mistaken the creatures long neck for its tail.
When Cope's mentor sided with Marsh, Cope was mortified.
He tried to buy and destroy every copy of the article containing his blunder,
but to no avail.
Their mutual resentment blossomed.
After the transcontinental railroad was completed the following year,
Cope and Marsh began scouring the American West for fossils.
They found riches the likes of which neither had dreamed.
Relying on the help of Native American guides,
Marsh made some especially significant discoveries,
like ancient birds with teeth that are still celebrated
as a missing link between dinosaurs and modern birds.
Cope made important discoveries, too,
but Marsh successfully invalidated many of them,
showing them to be redundant with other known species.
Enraged, Cope tried to secure priority for new findings
by announcing them via telegram.
He even purchased a respected journal
so future publications could be rushed into print.
But Marsh used his personal fortune to gain the upper hand,
hiring a small army of fossil hunters to out-compete his rival.
In 1878, Marsh bought an especially promising quarry in Como Bluff, Wyoming,
from two frontier collectors.
It yielded tons of fossils,
including the near-complete skeleton of a gigantic dinosaur
that Marsh named Brontosaurus.
Over the next 10 years, his men shipped him more than 480 boxes
of dinosaur bones from Como alone.
Marsh named dozens of new species.
But his assistants could be ruthless in their quest
to further Marshs scientific ambitions.
They sometimes destroyed fossils just to prevent them
from falling into Copes hands.
Desperate to catch up with Marsh,
Cope invested his dwindling fortune into silver mining.
The gamble failed, and he was left nearly destitute.
While Cope contemplated selling his precious collection,
Marsh was named lead paleontologist for the US Geological Survey.
This well-funded branch of the government often sponsored Westward expeditions,
giving Marsh even more resources to vanquish his rival.
The Bone Wars spilled into public view when Cope had a tabloid newspaper
publish an article accusing Marsh of plagiarism, fraud, and corruption.
Marsh fired back and the two further tarnished each others reputations.
Neither ever relented.
When Cope died, he donated his skull to science,
hoping to prove that his brain was larger than that of his enemy.
Marsh never accepted the challenge.
Although Marsh named more species than Cope,
both men greatly expanded our understanding of evolution.
But their egotistical one-upmanship reminds us that,
in spite of its ideals,
science is a personal enterprise conducted by individual
and at times deeply flawed human beings.